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Shanghai has failed to rise to Deng's challenge partly because so much of its energy is expended on the daily challenge of survival. The country's most congested city, it faces a severe housing shortage. More than a million families live in cramped, one-room flats without basic amenities. Consider the Chens, a family of five squeezed into a room that allows barely enough space for the beds. They share a kitchen with their neighbors next door and must use a communal toilet down the hall. "We're always in each other's way," complains the father. The Chens could easily afford a bigger place (the three children, ranging from 19 to 26, all work), but no apartments are available.
Traffic chokes the streets, and the Huangpu River is a fetid sewer. Even the progress of Shanghai's neighbors has claimed a price: suburban farmers, captivated by chemical fertilizers, are no longer as eager to cart off the city's human waste to use as manure.
Shanghai's haphazard growth reflects its history. Attracted by a wide harbor and easy access to the Chinese interior, British, French and American traders administered their own enclaves in the city for more than a century before the Communist Revolution. The colonial days inspired little central planning; the city has had to link up the three different sewage systems that served the foreign concessions. Shanghai suffered further during the 1950s when Mao emphasized the development of the countryside and neglected the cities.
To some degree, the city is also a victim of its manufacturing past. Unlike other Chinese cities, which can build new factories, Shanghai has hundreds of aging plants that are difficult to renovate. Its workers, accustomed for decades to old-style production systems, are reluctant to learn new and more efficient habits. "Shanghai is a hard nut to crack," says a city official. "It's big and bloated and old."
Those adjectives aptly describe the city's 6,000-member bureaucracy, which sometimes seems to strangle rather than foster reform. While other Chinese cities have succeeded in breaking up the powers of municipal agencies, Shanghai remains highly centralized. Alluding to the bulging government, a Western resident observes, "Shanghai has a smart head at the top, firm feet at the bottom, but a lumpy belly in the middle."
Managers complain that they are expected to meet higher quotas but have not been given the authority to enforce the reforms needed to meet those goals. "Power should be combined with responsibility," says Mou Deqing, director of a lamp factory. Yet the bureaucrats seem uncomfortable with the economic freedom Deng's reforms offer. "Employment levels are far too important to be in the hands of individual factory managers," says a top official of one of Shanghai's economic agencies. The real problem may be that Deng's reforms would weaken the city administrators' command. "If we let managers decide wages and bonuses, compensation will be out of our control," admits the economics expert.
As the birthplace of the Cultural Revolution, Shanghai has more than its share of diehard Maoists who view Deng's reforms as tantamount to treason. (Three members of the notorious Gang of Four began their careers in Shanghai.) Mao's influence can still be detected among the city officials who hew to Marxist orthodoxy and emphasize production at the expense of municipal services, thus aggravating the city's plight.